If you’ve ever been to Bowral in the NSW Southern Highlands, you’ll know that it’s a town with a prestigious past. From its catalogue of heritage-listed buildings, to Sir Donald Bradman cementing its place in sporting folklore, it is an inland oasis dripping with history.
And from its history emerges Links House Hotel, an establishment that toes the line masterfully between preservation and innovation to bring something that is both classic and refreshing, and as such provides yet another feather to the cap of its hometown.
We caught up with Venue Manager Megan Stone, to learn more about how Links House Hotel has embraced its past to give itself a sparkling future.
Mixing new ideas with old
“There’s a lot of things that we do that are how it’s always been done”
Links House Hotel has been in operation since 1928, serving as a destination for Sydneysiders to escape to the countryside’s picturesque surroundings, or as a stop for travellers making the journey between the Harbour City and the nation’s capital.
And it’s this history that Megan has incorporated into her redesign. She has coaxed Links House Hotel into the modern era with a measured restraint and a healthy level of respect for what made it successful in the first place.
“I’ve only been here a year and a half. I’m very new to the party. There’s a lot of things that we do that are how it’s always been done.”
These seemingly small things can have a huge impact on the success of a hotel. Straying too far from what people have come to know and expect, is not something that should be undertaken lightly. Thankfully, Megan is privy to such wisdom.
“As far as I know, we’ve always had pet friendly rooms, going back 30 years at least. It’s something that we’ve noted there’s such a huge demand for. Most places that accept animals are the more budget motels and things like that. We’re a point of difference in that the rooms are newly refurbished, beautifully done and clean and fresh.”
Fine dining in the Southern Highlands
“We’re not just a destination for a celebration”
Another area Megan was keen to exercise similar restraint with (whilst updating, of course) was the hotel restaurant, Ethos. Headed by acclaimed chef Jason Hughes, Ethos offers a return to community-based dining, focussing on local, seasonal ingredients. Think tender eye fillet with a smoked grain mustard, or a soul-warming soup du jour for when the winter months arrive.
“We like to say, we’ve got the best chef in the Highlands here. He’s been here for 4 and a half years now. His food is delicious, and we have people that know about us. Quite a few come back weekly to have a midweek meal; we’re not just a destination for a celebration.”Fine dining in these parts is not a rarity thanks to some of the more-adventurous chefs from nearby Sydney and Canberra feeding their desires to open up shop in a place that gives them the opportunity to immerse themselves and their restaurants into the very surroundings that yield their ingredients, taking more than a few links out of the supply chain.
For this, Links House Hotel again finds a point of difference and feeds it.
“We’ve got our bar and lounge area where guests can bring their dog with them and eat because they’re not specifically food service areas—a little bit of a grey area. They can eat in a fine dining restaurant and still have their dog with them.”
A hidden oasis
“Allowing the real beauty of the place to shine through”
One thing Megan knew needed to be approached with careful restraint was the hotel’s overall design. When dealing with such an historic property, it’s all too easy to survey the laundry list of repairs needed and take a knee jerk decision to gut the place, offering yourself a fresh start with a blank canvas. Much harder—but much more rewarding—is to work with a property’s quirks and oddities, to step back and see the value in materials that, whilst in need of some attention, have stood the test of time admirably and deserve to be celebrated.
“The brief was ‘grand English house’. Lisa Madigan did a wonderful job, paring back, simplifying and just allowing the real beauty of the place to shine through. We’ve always had a very comfortable, relaxed feel, and she’s kept that, but just smartened it up.”
This included restoring the original floorboards to their former glory and refreshing original features that perhaps were covered up over the years. And that grand English feel is continued outside into the gardens where, nestled upon what Megan playfully refers to as ‘glam swags’, you can take in the type of flora that saw Links House Hotel so popular with the visiting uppercrust of Sydney society over the decades.
“We’ve got beautiful gardens here, lots of perennials, lavenders, roses. The grounds are absolutely beautiful. Book a picnic and go out on the lawn, and we’ll set it up with these glam swags, champagne glasses, wine glasses and a picnic in a basket.”
Such settings feel a world away from civilisation, and yet you’re not isolated from the world completely (in a good way, I promise). Clever landscaping and a respectful relationship with neighbouring properties ensures that this Southern Highland oasis can hide in plain sight.
“We’re in a very residential area. The blocks are absolutely huge, but we have private houses to either side of us, and behind us as well. We have to be very careful not to overstep our bounds, as I believe the previous owner did sometimes. We don’t do anything outside that might upset the night. We don’t want to upset the neighbours, we want to keep the neighbours happy.”
Building towards a successful future
“We’re the Highlands best kept secret”
With Megan’s tenure as custodian for such a staple in Southern Highland’s hospitality in its infancy, the future is something which everybody will be keeping an eye on with great interest. Although, if the measured and tasteful approach she has taken so far to breathe new life into Links House are anything to go by, the future is in good hands.
Still, Megan has ideas.
“We’ll probably build up the restaurant trade. So many people come in and say we’re the Highlands best kept secret in terms of the fact that we’re not just for hotel guests, we’re also open to the public. I mean, we’re full most nights, but we just want to work on the lunch trade and just get out there—become known.”
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